Rooftop from the box

La Vida

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck & Sherry Ott

She woke us up at any time between 6:30 and 8am. She often took to the airwaves in the evening too, always with the same canter and many of the same messages. La Señora Sara, as we later learned her name was, sometimes read menus, relayed event details, and even sang happy birthday to deserving villagers. Her news was always interspersed with a perplexing variety of songs, usually stretching it well over an hour. All of it bounced off of the mountains encasing our valley – Sara was very loud. At first I found it an utterly charming and fascinating feature to our life in the village. I wondered how, in this age of having information at our fingertips, a town cryer could still possibly exist. Our landlord told us that while most people in the village loathed the sound of her voice, they also viewed her as necessary. Everyone had, at least once, slipped her the 10 pesos required to include their own messages in her daily announcements.

By the end of our month stay, the broadcast went from charming to super annoying. On a couple of mornings I found myself able to sleep through it entirely, but that was a blessed rarity. Most often, Sara had me grumbling as I rolled out of bed to begin my day.

But that was life in the village.

Given the weight of our work these days, we have far less time for exploring, and thus we have begun to splurge a little on the places we rent instead. Surrounding ourselves in a beautiful space does not only feel less oppressing, but it can even be inspiring. And the house that we rented in San Agustin Etla, just outside of Oaxaca, suited me greatly. Affectionately dubbed “The Box”, it was open, fed with lots of light, and even had a hammock I could retreat to in a beautifully manicured yard. For an hour during most afternoons I put on my headphones, tuned into the Startup podcast, sunk into my “thinking” hammock, and encouraged ideas to come. And I can honestly say that for our entire month there – irritating alarm clock aside – I was more content and productive then I have been in a very long time. It also helped that we shared our space with Sherry, another extremely hardworking blogger. Having someone new to talk ideas with, instead of Pete and I just staring at each other’s faces all day, was a refreshing change.

Inside the Box
Photo by Sherry Ott
Upstairs view in the Box
Photo by Sherry Ott

Woken up abruptly, all three of us were generally behind our laptops well before eight. In the first few days we figured out how best each of us worked – one of us liked silence and the others worked best to music, so we instituted music-free mornings but were usually grooving by the afternoon. Pete set the coffee maker each night so it was fresh when we were ready, and he supplemented that intake with smoothies made from the mounds of fresh fruits and veggies we loaded up on at the market. We had plenty of space to move around in, lots of chairs to rotate through, and we even took turns working in the little suite that Sherry slept in apart from the main house. We mostly used it for private Skype calls, which earned her space the nickname of the “Sound Booth”. (Among others: the Ice Box, the Sugar Shack, Solitary Confinement, and more.) And as our workday entered into work evening, Sherry insisted that five o’clock be christened with an alcoholic beverage, sometimes even on our rooftop that overlooked the gorgeous valley during its golden hour. That ritual was barely missed and became our strongest blogger-family tradition.

We even entertained, which is something we haven’t done in a while. With a lovely gang of bloggers having accumulated in Oaxaca for a few months, we wooed them out with a promise of a tranquil patio outside the bustling city and to hang with our resident donkey Harold (Pete named him).

Life in The Box was very good.

Harold the Donkey
Box from Above

Excursions outside The Box were few, but welcomed and needed, to stretch our bodies out after lengthy days absorbed in our laptops. We’d try to get into Oaxaca City at least once per week to see our friends and in hot pursuit of a rooftop patio with a view. Sundays was the market in our own little village – up the hill into town, and then up yet more to sit among locals and devour a plate of fresh taquitos. Every day in the early evening, we had the option to follow our noses to the town bakery. Down a dusty alley, and only found after asking two different people for directions, the small entryway opened up to a larger room with stacks of freshly baked goods. Most were destined to supply shops in the city, but we were handed trays and tongs to choose some warm takeaway treats for mere pennies. On each visit we lingered for long minutes to absorb the aroma and atmosphere (to the delight of the bakers who laughed at our desire to take so many photos of their everyday work).

On Wednesdays, we ventured farther to the weekly market in Villa de Etla, which was a long stretch of road lined with an astounding array of goods. Each visit was the same but different – we’d come home with bags overflowing of fresh produce staples, but then usually am added treasure of something unknown. During one visit we made it our mission to buy one of every fruit or vegetable we didn’t know (made somewhat impossible as we were accompanied by a dear friend and food expert), but Pete and I at least tested zapote and guanabana for the first time.

On another Wednesday, I approached our cheese lady for our weekly mound of quesillo, a semi-hard but stringy white cheese produced right in the town. I handed her 100 pesos, but because she was short on change, she just pushed the cheese and bill back in my direction and told me to return and pay later. I left astounded at the display of her trust in a stranger and returned as promptly as I could. And then again every week after that.

This, among everything else, made me feel part of a warm community. That doesn’t happen very often given our propensity to move.

San Agustin Etla Bakery
Inside the bakery
Bread from Bakery
Photo by Sherry Ott
Etla Market 2
Etla Market 4
Another new taste – this is “tejate” – an energy drink made of cocoa, corn, peanuts, and more.

It was a lovely routine we had settled into, and when our month at The Box ended, all three of us left grudgingly. It honestly had felt as close to a forever home as I have been in a very long time. Maybe ever.

Except for the rude awakenings. Not every place is perfect, I suppose.

where we stayed

Don’t book The Box because I want it available at my convenience, okay? :)But if you DO decide to book it via Airbnb, use our affiliate link to earn yourself a discount on your first stay (and a little something for us too).

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  1. This reminds me so much of when I taught English in Thailand and lived in “teacher housing” on campus. Every weekday, we were woken up by sad-sounding Thai ballads blasting from the school — at first, it was a fun and different detail to my morning routine, but it quickly became tiring! Really enjoyed this read. The Box sounds like it was a beautiful place for slowing down and focusing 🙂

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